The SVSU men’s soccer program has become nearly a sure bet for the NCAA Division II playoff tournament over the past several years. However, after back-to-back first-round exits, the 2018 squad is looking to turn playoff appearances into a deep postseason run.
Back for his fourth season, head coach Andy Wagstaff was complimentary of his team’s spring and fall training. Over the spring, the team notched a pair of 2-2 draws against AFC Ann Arbor out of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) and Division I Bowling Green State University.
“We ended the spring on a pretty good high,” he said. “We felt like the spring was a really positive time for us. (In the fall), for the most part the boys came in fit, ready to go and with an excited attitude.”
After many of the players spent the summer playing for teams at a variety of levels, the squad recently returned for fall training. Scrimmages against the University of Michigan, Oakland University and Alma College have assisted in preparation for the regular season.
To open its 2018 campaign, SVSU will go on the road to take on the defending national champion and top-ranked University of Charleston on Thursday, August 31 at 7:30 p.m.
“It’s always very special to play teams of that caliber,” junior forward Azaad Liadi said. “Just knowing that they won the national championship last year and that’s where we want to be this year, it should be a good test for us.”
SVSU returns much of its core from a season ago, with key returners including Liadi, sophomore forward Michael
Hamilton, senior defender Omar Sinclair, senior midfielder Michael Shaikly and senior defender Brian Sockow, all of whom earned All-GLIAC honors at the end of last season.
“We’ve got the core nucleus of the group back,” Wagstaff said. “We’ve got some good leadership, and I feel like we’ve gone out and recruited pretty well, so we’re excited.”
Also returning this season is junior midfielder Pablo Ortiz. He said the team has grown together very quickly.
“The team as a whole is very new, but we’re already closer as teammates than we were last year,” Ortiz said. “Tactically, we have gone over many new ideas on how to attack and defend, so learning and effectively playing with these new ideas will be crucial.”
The roster also includes 13 newcomers, a mix of domestic and international players who come from some impressive soccer backgrounds.
Wagstaff stressed that the key to making a deep run in the playoffs has far more to do with mental toughness and team mentality than talent. While SVSU has finished in the top two in the GLIAC in each of Wagstaff’s first three seasons, including the 2016 conference championship, it has yet to win the GLIAC postseason tournament and has not advanced past the first round of the NCAA playoffs since 2015.
“(In years past), I feel like we’ve maybe let ourselves down psychologically,” Wagstaff said. “We’ll spend a lot of time on the psychology of the players this year. I think there’s a bunch of players in our locker room that know what it feels like to be there, and they want to get back there again and get over that hump.”